Skip to content

Epidural catheter shortage would be real pain for area hospitals

OSMH says it is impacted by supply chain issues surrounding supply of epidural catheters but has 'adequate' stock for now
Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital

A potential shortage of epidural catheters used to provide anesthesia during childbirth has not — for now — impacted Orillia's hospital.

A supply-chain issue is causing shortages of the device for some Canadian provinces, with the potential for shortages in Ontario as well. Hospitals across the province have reported taking steps to secure inventory. 

Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital has been impacted by the shortage, but officials confirmed they have adequate stock of the catheters at this time because the hospital has been working with multiple suppliers. 

Dr. John Rissanen, medical director of the surgery program at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), told BarrieToday that although recent supply-chain disruptions have resulted in a nationwide shortage of epidural catheters, over the last several weeks the Barrie hospital has worked proactively with alternate providers to secure supplies. 

“While we understand that expecting women are anxious that epidural pain relief during labour may not be available, we are pleased to report no disruptions at RVH currently,” he said. “RVH will continue to explore all avenues to stabilize our inventory while the more widespread supply-chain issues are resolved.”

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (CGMH) president and CEO Mike Lacroix says that hospital is not rationing epidural catheters and has enough to meet its regular demand. 

"Patients arriving at CGMH can feel confident that this service is available," Lacroix said in an emailed statement. "Central region hospitals continue to work together to monitor supply and share resources, should it be needed." 

Health services and networks from other provinces  including Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick  have confirmed their hospitals have been impacted by the shortage, but most are finding alternate suppliers in the interim to make sure they have an adequate supply. 

The shortage, which is reported by Health Canada on the list of medical device shortages includes two suppliers: Smiths Medical ASD based in Minnesota and Arrow International LLC a subsidiary of Teleflex, based in North Carolina. The Smiths shortage was reported by Health Canada in April with an estimated resolution date of Aug. 26. The Teleflex shortage was reported in August with a resolution expected by the end of the year, according to Health Canada. 

William Osler Health System, a network of three hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, told The Canadian Press it is working with suppliers and the government to secure inventory. There is also a catheter supply strategy within the network, with ongoing work to monitor the situation.

The shortage of the epidural catheters, which are used to provide pain medication primarily during labour and delivery, is affecting most provinces, but supply issues seem to be worse in western Canada, says the vice-president of the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society.

Dr. Lucie Filteau said “murmurings” of a shortage of the tubes, or catheters, began recently on a private online page of about 300 anesthesiologists across the country.

“We thought there were just isolated little pockets and people started to become aware that it was more widespread,” Filteau, an anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital, told The Canadian Press.

Filteau said an apparent lack of information about the shortage from manufacturers to Health Canada and from governments to health-care providers has been “frustrating, basically in all directions” due to the lack of a co-ordinated approach for all provinces and territories.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba seem to be most affected by the shortage, Filteau said.

“If the shortage is global, maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. But I do think that on the communication side, on the supply-chain side and the protocols that exist, there’s room for improvement," she added. 

Ontario's health ministry says the province currently has an adequate supply of epidural catheters, but it will work with hospitals to track inventory and assess the need for redistribution of the devices when possible.

"Recently, some Canadian provinces have experienced shortages in the availability of epidural catheters due to supply chain issues," spokesperson Bill Campbell said in a statement.

The ministry says hospitals will receive instructions on how to assess and report on current inventory in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the provincial agency Ontario Health is working with Health Canada, suppliers, distributors, manufacturers and other partners to "understand current and future supply" and "support a province-wide approach to equitable access to supplies," Campbell said.

The agency is also convening a clinical working group to advise on the issue and what's needed to offset potential effects on patient care, he said.

A Health Canada report listing medical device shortages says an epidural catheterization kit and a set used to deliver anesthesia involves one manufacturer, Arrow International LLC of Pennsylvania. It says a shortage that began on July 18 is estimated to last until the end of December.

— With files from Nikki Cole, The Canadian Press

Reader Feedback

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
Read more